Non-aligned socialist and regular contributor to The Point Graeme McIver takes a look at the result of the American election.
“The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born; now is the time of monsters.”
I have to admit I’m not the biggest fan of the Rolling Stones. Early on the morning of 9th of November I liked them a little less. As President Elect Trump lapped up the adulation of the Republican faithful in New York, Sir Mick Jagger’s voice rang out through the hall, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” - you’re not wrong there Mick. I understand that the Stones are upset with Trump for using their requiem for the passing of the 60’s hopes and dreams, without their permission or blessing. Donald ignored them. It’s what Donald does.
In sharp contrast to the boorish bombast and pomposity on display at the New York Hilton, across America and the world others looked on aghast and in disbelief. This was not supposed to happen. The Simpsons were joking when they portrayed a future President Trump. It was meant to be high satire not clairvoyance. The pundits were wrong, the pollsters were wrong and somehow, someway, Trump was in the Whitehouse. Doh!
There is a temptation, especially in the immediate aftermath of such a seismic political event to look for straightforward answers or simple explanations to rationalise and account for the result. Has America gone mad? Are the majority of US citizen’s racist, misogynist, xenophobes? The 17th century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza wrote, “I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, but to understand them.” The result seems hard to understand without resorting to caricature. The reasons were of course multifaceted but there were clues to some of them all along.
On the eve of the poll the BBC visited a group of voters in a former industrial town where manufacturing jobs had all but disappeared. I forget where exactly. The precise location is not important as there are many such places scattered across the rust belt states of the USA. The people were in a long line waiting on food hand-outs from a local charity. They were poor. Dirt poor. Black and white. As they waited for their meagre rations they spoke of their longing for jobs, of their rejection of the political status quo in Washington, the need for better homes and their support for Donald Trump. Previously this desire for change and improvement had led to support for the Democrats. This time however, when the blue collar heartlands of America wanted change, many of them did not see Hillary Clinton providing it. The old certainties no longer applied.
This is not a phenomenon unique to the American Election of 2016. All across the globe those cast-iron certainties that defined and drove politics for decades no longer exist. In the wake of an extended crisis in world capitalism the only thing that you can be sure of is to expect the unexpected. The centre ground is fast disappearing as a polarisation takes place, a battle for ideas and a struggle for a future direction. What is for certain is that many of the electorates in the Western Democracies are looking to give their political establishments a kicking for the failures of government and an economic system that have led to increasing levels of inequality, poverty and hopelessness. Sometimes, as with the election of Syriza in Greece this manifests itself in a left direction whilst in others a move to the right. In the UK it expresses itself in events as diverse as Brexit, the election of Corbyn as Labour leader, a Tory majority in Westminster and the rise of the SNP in Scotland at the expense of former Labour hegemony. In Spain, it’s the rise of Podemos, in Poland the success of the anti-immigrant PiS and in Germany the anti-Islam Alternative for Germany (AfD) party defeated Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats in a north-eastern state election as recently as September.
Whilst of course there are significant differences between 2016 and the 1930’s we are entering a period of politics where the response to the crisis in capitalism brings frightening parallels with the period immediately before World War II. These are characterised as growing inequality, a rise in nationalism, an attempt to replace neo-liberalism with more protectionist policies, the scapegoating of immigrants and refugees and the success of populist right-wing parties, heavy on slogans and rhetoric but light on solutions. Following Trump’s election Marie Le Pen from France’s Front National stated, “Their world is collapsing, ours is being built.”
Yet it seemed at times that the American election was not so much a battle of ideas but a race to avoid being the most despised candidate. Trump won - just, thanks to the archaic Electoral College system. Hillary won the popular vote by a whisker, only there was nothing popular about her. In retrospect it is doubtful that the Democratic Party could have picked a worse candidate to stand against Trump than Hillary Clinton. She enabled a billionaire businessman to present himself as the champion of the working class and dispossessed. Her candidacy allowed a misogynist, racist demagogue to claim the moral high-ground on foreign policy. Her links to corporate America and Wall Street enabled Trump to look like the anti-establishment option. For many, Clinton personified the swamp that Trump promised to drain.
Back in the 1990’s, buoyed by the electoral successes of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, the Democratic Party and New Labour celebrated their all things to all men, third-way politics as the future of social democracy. Anyone who did not get on board failed to understand the post-cold war realities, was a relic of the past and a barrier to progress. There is no third way now. Bernie Sanders summed up the new reality with a couple of tweets in the days following the poll; “we can't be a party which cozies up to Wall Street, raises money from billionaires & stands with working families. We've got to pick a side - The Democratic Party has to be focused on grassroots America and not wealthy people attending cocktail parties.”
In the eyes of millions the Democrats chose a side a long-time ago. Obama’s successful election campaigns had concentrated on, “Hope” but eight years into his Presidency and America is even more of a divided nation, fractured along racial and class lines with poverty and inequality rising. No amount of celebrity endorsements can hide the facts. According to the U.S. Census Bureau nearly 47 million Americans live in poverty. The Bureau found that in 2007 about one out of every eight children in America received food stamps. Today, that number is one out of every five. According to Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer, the authors of the book, “$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America“, there are 1.5 million “ultrapoor” households in the United States who live on less than two dollars a day. That number has doubled since 1996. 46 million Americans use food banks each year whilst the number of homeless children in the U.S. has increased by 60 percent over the past six years. Figures compiled by Dr. Eugene Declercq, professor of community health sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health found that maternal death rates in the US are higher than any other industrialised nation and rising year on year. Many of those living with the consequences of these facts concluded that Clinton and the Democrats offered nothing but a continuation of their misery. Add to these shocking statistics a disastrous and hawkish foreign policy then despite his undoubted powers of oratory, Obama’s tenure did the Democrats no favours and was a significant contributor to the success of Trump. Many of those who had been inspired, particularly by his 2008 campaign, where not about to get fooled again.
The turn-out reflected the choices. Almost half of Americans didn’t vote in the election where both candidates recorded record levels of dissatisfaction. Trump was elected by fractionally over a quarter of the population. In the process he received less votes than Mitt Romney who lost to Obama in 2012.
The perceived campaigning norms were also blown away by Trump’s election. In the end it didn’t matter he was racist, didn’t matter that he boasted of sexually assaulting women, didn’t matter if he told lies or insulted minority groups or if his wife completely stole a speech from Michelle Obama. Political commentators, strategists and spin-doctors would normally conclude all of these things would be fatal to a candidates hopes of gaining election - yet he still prevailed. There were of course many who voted for Trump exactly because he was a racist, misogynist, xenophobe.
There is a sinister, racist underbelly to America. To paraphrase a statement made about Brexit, not everybody who voted for Trump was a racist xenophobe, but all racist xenophobes voted for Trump. They celebrated the fact that their poisonous views were being articulated in mainstream politics. The KKK plan a victory parade to celebrate Trump’s election. Mirroring the increase in racist violence and hate crimes following the Brexit vote in the UK, these racists have been emboldened and are on the offensive. What happens next is crucial.
This election, perhaps more than any other in modern US history proved that the two party system is failing the majority of ordinary Americans. Trump has won the battle of the right within the Republican Party, temporarily at least and has exposed the divisions that exist there. It was reported that former President George W Bush could not bring himself to cast a vote for Trump. It’s doubtful the President Elect will lose any sleep over the snub. His campaign wrong-footed not just Democratic strategists but the old guard of the Grand Old Party itself. To the victor the spoils and in the short term Trump will undoubtedly seek revenge against those in the Republican Party leadership who were critical and unsupportive of him.
The big question now is where does the Democratic Party go from here? It is seen as discredited and part of the establishment that has sickened and disillusioned millions. Like the Labour Party, it has spent decades taking for granted that its working class base would always remain supportive regardless as it moved to the right on economic issues. It could have been so different, had the Democratic Party machinery and the liberal media not conspired against the socialist Bernie Sanders in the selection process then the election could have been fought on an entirely different battlefield.
Clinton could not effectively criticise Trump for his immense wealth, power and privilege as she had all of these things in abundance. Trump could characterise Hilary as the rotten status-quo and him the plucky outsider. Saunders could have turned that argument on its head. A man that had campaigned for workers and trade-unions for decades, a man who came from the same blue-collar background as the voters of the rust-belt was uniquely placed to expose Trump for the carpet bagger and charlatan he is.
Whilst it would be an over-simplification to say that had he been selected he would have won the election, polling continually showed Sanders had a much higher approval rating than both Trump and Clinton and he did particularly well in the Democratic primaries in all the states that the Democrats needed to win to secure the election. Sanders promoted an altogether different vision of a solution to the problems of the American working class. He was supported by a huge and vibrant grass-roots movement that could have been mobilised and pitted against the lies, deceit and hatred of the Trump campaign. Instead they chose Hillary and the rest, as they say, is now officially history.
The choice faced by the millions of Americans distraught at Trump’s election is whether to continue to support the Democrats in whoever becomes its next Presidential candidate or to look to build something new from the wreckage. If they chose to stay loyal then modern history has shown that even when they win the Presidency or are in charge of the Senate, then the lives of the working class Middle Americans who put them there do not improve. The gap between those at the top and everyone else continues to grow.
A new party, based on the coalition of forces that supported Sanders but broadened, appealing to the core vote of the Democrats who voted for Clinton through gritted teeth and the 50% of the population who chose not to vote could change American politics forever. Even amongst the bad news on election night there were still reasons to be optimistic for the future. Whilst many switched to Trump, enabling him to secure victory, the vast majority of the poorest third of Americans still voted Democrat. Whilst Trump made some inroads into the black and Latino vote, then both of these groups still overwhelmingly reject the Republicans.
It wouldn’t be easy. Not just in America but across the world the populist right is on the rise and needs to be confronted. The divisions and schisms that tarnish left and progressive movements are a barrier to creating a meaningful, effective and credible opposition. The stakes are too high for vanity, self-interest and sectarianism. Whilst in the immediate term it is vital to organise and demonstrate opposition to Trump and in solidarity with those groups who face real and physical danger, it is important that any new movement is not seen simply as a protest group but as a mass and inclusive poll of attraction.
Trump’s victory proved that people who feel they have nothing to lose will vote for something, anything in a bid to improve their lives. The left needs to articulate an alternative vision to convince them that their economic interests are best served by joining with the millions of others who share their fate.
Perhaps we can take some inspiration from Donald’s choice of music? “You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes well. you just might find, you get what you need.”
Other articles by Graeme McIver in The Point (click on the articles)
As the world economy teeters on the edge of another major crisis and the UK stock market hits a five year low, Bruce Wallace analyses the situation from a Marxists perspective and warns of the limitations of Keynesian solutions proffered by many on the left
A Storm is Brewing
Storm clouds are gathering ominously over the world capitalist economy. The news from just about everywhere is bad.
China recorded its lowest ever growth rate in twenty-five years of 6.9 percent in 2015, although in reality this is a gross overestimation. Many economists believe the real figure is closer to 4 percent. It should be added that this slowdown in China is happening despite one of the biggest ever government stimulus packages in history.
Reports from other emerging markets are equally bleak as the price of oil plunged to $28 a barrel at the end of January 2016, its lowest since 2003. Stock markets in the emerging economies all took a hit along with the big established markets in the USA and Europe. Reuters reported that falls on emerging economies stock markets towards bear territory (where they drop up to 20 percent in value) could surpass the scope of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis.
The fall in the price of oil and the sell-off contagion hitting the stock markets represent a major correction in the bloated value of stocks and shares, in the face of a major global slowdown in real economic output of the productive sector of capitalism.
The decline was only halted when Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank, announced that the ECB may expand its stimulus programme and inject more cash into the European markets. Although a full blown crisis appeared to have been averted, the scope of value wiped off the world’s stock markets is staggering. Although there was a partial recovery the markets had lost 20 percent of their value in the first three weeks of 2016.
There are real reasons for the capitalist class to be nervous as more bleak news appears almost daily. Market Watch (Jan 28 2015) published profit warnings for major US companies that came as a “grim reminder” for corporate America that it is failing to generate growth. This came on the heels of the announcement that Americas’ most profitable company Apple inc. grew at the slowest rate since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 and forecast that revenue in the current quarter would decline at the steepest rate in 15 years.
“This weakness in overall corporate earnings growth could bode badly for the broader stock market, as it represents the actual impact of geopolitical concerns, the slowdown in China, the weakness in oil prices and productivity”, said Karyn Cavanaugh, senior market strategist at Voya Investment Management.
“Earnings discount all the noise,” said Cavanaugh. “It’s the best unbiased view of what’s going on in the global economy.””
The question now is whether the USA is entering, or is about to enter, a recession? The slowdown in China is very serious but if the USA follows then the implications for global capitalism are very worrying indeed.
A bottle of water is dearer than a bottle of oil
Scotland is certainly not immune from this spreading crisis particularly from the deflationary pressure on oil prices. The human dimension of the oil plunge has sunk many into a well of misery. 65 year old Spencer Ruck closed his ship’s chandlery, welding and industrial equipment business in Invergordon’s High Street after thirty years of trading to downsize to a local industrial estate. Spencer told the Daily Record:
“We’re giving up the shop due to the downturn. I had six staff but now we’ll just have two of us at the industrial estate. I’ve had to lay off four people. This is our 30th year and I’ve never paid off anybody – ever. The business isn’t for sale. I thought about it but things are so bad that nobody would buy it at the moment.”
As phantom oil rigs idle at anchor in the Cromarty Firth a resident of Invergordon noted:
“It’s eerie. You have all of this hardware parked up and you’d think it would mean there’s at least something coming through to the town but it doesn’t.”
An Invergordon hairdresser said:
“People who don’t understand see the all rigs out there in the Firth and think times must be good but it’s just a giant car park for redundant rigs. A bottle of water is dearer than a bottle of oil.”
It is clear from examining the serious economic analysis and data of professional bourgeois commentators that capitalism has not recovered from the generalised crisis of 2008. Internationally the system is stuck in a global crawl with growth rates slowing in the emerging economies, while the burnt out dynamo of the USA has anaemic growth based on an artificial consumer boom . The real picture there is one of slowing investment, reduced trade and massive corporate, government and consumer debt levels. Meanwhile areas of Europe (Greece, Spain and Portugal) are still mired in depression-like conditions. Any further major economic downturn would provoke renewed crisis in the fragile recovery of these depression hit states.
Mainstream economists are debate whether capitalism has entered an extended period of “secular stagnation" or what they call the New Normal - a decade or more of low growth in the global economy. Periodically, the International Monetary Fund downgrades forecasts for global growth. In the rarefied level of economics the debate is rather academic but for the working class the spreading capitalist sclerosis is causing real misery.
The worsening economic malaise is being felt through a wave of job cuts in the energy, petrochemical and mining industries, in banking and finance, and heavy industries such as steel. Total global unemployment stood at 197.1 million in 2015. That is 27 million higher than the pre-crisis level in 2007. It could be expected to rise by nearly 2.3 million in 2016 and by a further 1.1 million in 2017. In other words, almost a decade after the onset of the global financial crisis, unemployment will still be on the increase.
Far from capitalism being in a New Normal it’s on a slide towards a renewed crisis of major proportions.
The primary response of capitalist governments’ to the crisis has been a set of policies popularly known as austerity. Following the huge amount of public money used to stave off the collapse of the financial sector in 2008 (and possibly capitalism itself), public debt sky-rocketed. The capitalist class used this to create a narrative placing the blame on over-spending on public services as the main cause of debt, and so the government should seek to reduce the deficit (gap between government income received and money spent) and ultimately “pay down” these debts as a matter of priority. This would be achieved by cutting public expenditure, and to a lesser degree raising taxes on the general population.
Whilst conventional left-wing economists have pointed out austerity is an ideological justification for making the working class shoulder the burden of paying for the crisis of 2008, it is much more than this. Debt is viewed by investors and state creditors as a risk to financial stability, so proponents of austerity believe that a good credit rating is necessary to attract investment. Cutting public spending means that the tax base of the government can be reduced, and this is done in favour of capital by reducing corporation taxes and selling off public assets on the cheap. Public spending cuts mean an increase in unemployment directly from the public sector and indirectly from the private sector. This increase of supply in the labour market depresses wages. These measures aim to increase corporate (post-tax) rate of profit. However, austerity has not been a smashing success for capitalism.
Many conventional left-leaning economists (Krugman, Stiglitz, DeLong, Pettifor et al) base their understanding of capitalism and crisis on the ideas of the 20th century British economist Keynes. They believe the 2008 crisis was caused by a lack of effective demand i.e. low wages, and that this remains the primary factor for the sluggish economic growth most countries are currently experiencing. The Keynesian narrative states that wages have remained stagnant over a period of several decades (since the neoliberal period of the 1980s), leading to rising inequality and debt-fuelled consumer consumption. This consumer debt build up was unsustainable, since wages were not sufficient to service it. Eventually the debt bubble collapsed in the form of the US sub-prime housing market. Keynesians believe austerity has exacerbated the problem of economic recovery by reducing consumer income and hence purchasing. They see austerity as irrational and hence a purely ideological response to the crisis.
The Keynesians of the conventional left believe that economic growth can be restored through increasing effective demand. They argue that increased wages would lead to higher sales and hence higher profits for businesses, who would then invest by raising wages and/or employing more workers, leading to an upward spiral of recovery and economic growth. Keynesians thus appear to be the natural opponents of austerity. In the face of “business uncertainty”, they argue that the state take on the role of investor and spend money in the economy to create jobs, for example by creating public works. Radical Keynesians argue for more “socialistic” measures such as bringing the financial system under state control in order to spend corporation's bank balances on their behalf. Either way, Keynesians believe that a solution to economic crisis can be found within the confines of capitalism itself.
Marxists would support any policies that seek to stop further spending cuts and create decent, well-paid jobs. We would support any demands to put more money in the pockets of workers. Unfortunately, the Keynesian solution simply does not work. Along with austerity, both of these measures fail to revive economic growth because they incorrectly diagnose the cause of generalised capitalist crises. A correct understanding of the crisis and why these policies are unworkable can only be gained with recourse to Marxist theory.
Marxist Theory of Capitalist Crisis
Marx recognised that the aim of capital was not the satisfaction of consumer demand, but rather "[a]ccumulation for accumulation’s sake, production for production’s sake" (Marx 1867). This stands in opposition to modern bourgeois economists, who take the existence of capitalism as something perfectly natural that exists to meet the needs of humanity. Marx showed that satisfying consumer demand was merely a by-product of capital's self-expansion. In fact, the self-expansion of capital occurs precisely without regard to consumer demand. This runaway capital expansion is what leads to the uniquely capitalist phenomena of periodic crises of overproduction:
“In these crises, there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity — the epidemic of over-production. … Because there is too much civilisation, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce.” (Marx 1848)
Overproduction is not in relation to consumer demand, but the ability of the capitalist to make profit: “The word over-production in itself leads to error. So long as the most urgent needs of a large part of society are not satisfied, or only the most immediate needs are satisfied, there can of course be absolutely no talk of an over-production of products— in the sense that the amount of products is excessive in relation to the need for them. On the contrary, it must be said that on the basis of capitalist production, there is constant under-production in this sense. The limits to production are set by the profit of the capitalist and in no way by the needs of the producers.” (Marx 1863)
So what causes capitalists to stop making profit? Clearly they only make profit if they sell their products. If we assumed the end goal of capitalism was the creation of consumer goods, then we would naturally look at the sale of consumer goods, expecting a decline in sales prior to a crisis. However, the facts show that US consumer sales only fell after the 2008 crisis began
So a fall in workers’ consumption or consumption more generally could not have been the cause of the crisis. Instead, we have to look at the other commodity market - capital goods, also known as the means of production (factory machinery etc). In his reproduction schemas of Capital Volume II, Marx showed how the production of capital goods must expand faster than the production of consumer goods in order for worker productivity to rise (physical output per worker per hour). The market for capital goods must therefore be primary for the expansion of capital and the health of the system, since worker productivity has trended upwards in all capitalist countries.
So why do capitalists stop buying capital goods? Or worded another way, on what basis do capitalists invest? The answer is: on the expectation of a return on their investment. The profit a capitalist makes on the basis of a given amount of investment in a given time period (typically a year) is their rate of profit, or return on investment.
The long-term trend of the economy-wide rates of profit for all advanced capitalist countries is downwards. This is particularly evident in the USA where the 2008 crisis began, but also in the UK, China and other major economies. Falling rates of profit lead to falling rates of investment, which in turn leads to slower growth in jobs and wages.
If capitalists are unable to make sufficient profit, they start to cut costs and purchases of capital goods. If the rate of profit is weak across the economy, cut backs in one sector of the economy lead to knock on effects in others. Profits fall and capitalists eventually make loses as they are unable to sell their stock. What starts off in the capital goods sector spreads to the consumer goods sector as unemployment increases and wages are cut. At this point, overproduction becomes apparent due to the generalised inability of capitalists to sell enough stock, and we have crisis. Businesses start going bust, markets crash and so on.
If the underlying reason for a crisis is the insufficient rate of profit, then the only way out (from a capitalist perspective) to raise the rate of profit. This can only be done by reducing the cost of capital investment, which inherently occurs as part of the crisis through bankruptcies and collapses in the price of commodities. In that sense, the aim of a crisis is to devalue capital sufficiently to make its self-expansion possible again, paving the way for another period of growth. Unfortunately for us, a crisis leads to mass unemployment, falling living standards and general social upheaval. Movements in the rate of profit drive the boom and bust cycle, but there is also a long term tendency for the general rate of profit to decline over decades.
What causes the Falling Rate of Profit?
Marx showed that, under capitalism, only workers' expenditure of labour-power creates value. Capitalists appropriate a part of that value which workers are not compensated for. This unpaid expenditure of labour-power is called surplus value.
In simple terms, as the production of commodities becomes more automated and mechanised, less labour-power is used in production. Living labour (variable capital) is replaced with dead labour (constant capital), which cannot produce new value. Over time, this causes the value of the commodities produced to decline, along with the surplus value congealed within. Since surplus value is the essence of profit, the profit realised per sale must also fall, and therefore the rate of profit. To compensate for this, capitalists attempt to sell more commodities. But this involves investing in production and producing more commodities, which in the long run causes the rate of profit to fall further!
The inseparable flip-side to the falling rate of profit is the accumulation of constant capital, dead labour. The mechanism of crisis aims to purge this dead labour from the system to enable profitable investment to resume.
Why Quantitative Easing Hasn't Worked
Quantitative Easing (QE) is an unconventional form of Keynesian policy. QE is where the Central Bank essentially creates money and uses it to buy bonds from banks and other financial institutions in order for them to recapitalise their balance sheets. The idea is to give banks more capital so they can start lending again to businesses and consumers, increasing effective demand (as per the Keynesian theory). There are several problems with this. Firstly, this simply replaces the capital lost by the banks with more fictitious capital, which leaves the banks in exactly the same situation as before – completely exposed to another crisis. Secondly, by preventing the banks from collapsing (such as through the British Government's nationalisation of RBS, Northern Rock etc), the bourgeois have prevented the purge of fictitious and real capital required for a robust rebound in the rate of profit which would lay down the necessary conditions for a recovery. Thirdly, because the rate of profit has not sufficiently recovered, companies are unwilling to borrow to invest.
Why Austerity Doesn't Work
As discussed previously, the aim of austerity is to raise corporate profitability by selling public assets, reducing corporation taxes and creating unemployment to reduce wages. Whilst austerity in the UK did lead to a modest recovery on the basis of a partial recovery in the rate of profit, it is a fragile recovery. The UK was supposed to doing well among the advance capitalist countries with a vibrant growth rate of 3.0 percent but the British economy is now slowing markedly. GDP slowed to 1.9 percent in the 4th quarter of 2015.
Moreover Britain’s recovery has been completely lopsided, Services have rebounded from the crisis well but manufacturing is in the doldrums recording its slowest growth in 14 months.
This is because, as a proportion of overall investment costs, wages remain a small component of capital outlay compared to constant capital. The elephant in the room remains fictitious capital and constant capital value, which needs to be purged to restore profitability. The bourgeois are understandably anxious to do what they can to prevent what would be a catastrophic collapse in value. However, this is simply kicking the can down the road. A crisis is inevitable.
Why Anti-Austerity Doesn't Work
Like the advocates of Quantitative Easing, proponents of anti-austerity at root believe that increasing effective demand can revive economic growth. This is a false notion. Whereas Marx showed that profit was derived from unpaid labour, proponents of anti-austerity believe that profit can be sourced through paid labour. The class struggle between worker and capitalist is forgotten and replaced with class collaboration – what's good for workers is good for business! Marxists, of course, reject this but let us consider the impact of anti-austerity on the economy.
Anti-austerity comes in several forms. The traditional strategy is classic Keynesian tax and spend. This works by raising taxes on corporations and redistributing the acquired wealth to social programmes, public works and public sector job creation. In Marxist terms, this cuts the capitalists' surplus value and redistributes it to the working class. Whilst this would be a welcome reform, ultimately it would exacerbate the underlying issue of the low rate of profit by reducing the post-tax rate of profit further. Companies would either go bankrupt, cut staff or move abroad in an attempt to remain profitable.
The alternative strategy, as supported by the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, is to print and spend money, described as “People's Quantitative Easing”. Much like traditional QE, this would involve the Central Bank (in this case the Bank of England) creating money to buy bonds from a new state-owned National Investment Bank. This bank would then spend money to fund public infrastructure projects, ultimately putting cash in workers' pockets. The apparent advantage of this method compared to tax and spend is that capitalist profits would not be taxed, keeping them sweet. The problem with People's QE is that the state bank would still act as capital. Any investment projects that increase the ratio of constant capital to variable capital will depress the average rate of profit across the economy. Additionally, printing money would simply create more fictitious capital, which would serve as another barrier to restoring profitability.
Everyone is Anti-Austerity
This anti-austerity narrative is popular amongst the Left. Pick up a newspaper or any left-wing journal inside or outside the Labour Party and they are all proclaim allegiance to anti-austerity. Opposition to capitalism has given way to opposition to austerity. Their answer to the enduring economic crisis which has produced austerity is anti-austerity, not socialism.
Unfortunately, anti-austerity is not simply left-wing. Perhaps lesser known is the support for anti-austerity amongst the far-right across Europe:
“The rise of the radical right in Western European countries, particularly in France and the Netherlands, has been a large focus of media attention and scholarly analysis. However, less attention has been paid to the rise of the radical right in Eastern Europe and its links to the anti-austerity and anti-EU movements.” (Huffington Post, 02/13/2014)
“Led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, twin brother of late president Lech, PiS [the Polish Law and Justice Party] has promised to increase state control of the economy, tax banks and stop privatisation. It also wants to lower the retirement age and says 'no' to adopting the euro any time soon.” (Reuters Mon Oct 26, 2015)
Increasingly, more mainstream bourgeois commentators are coming out in support of anti-austerity policies:
“In an era of extraordinarily low interest rates and slow growth, it is becoming increasingly clear that progressives do best when they reject austerity and embrace public investment. The British Labour party and the Canadian NDP sought to demonstrate their soundness by embracing budget balancing as an objective. Their results were terrible.
The Canadian Liberals, on the other hand, were rewarded for a very different choice. As incoming prime minister, Justin Trudeau told the FT: “People keep telling me we have made a risky choice in this time when there is this political mantra of balanced budgets as a way to demonstrate responsible leadership. I am on the side of economists who say: Why put off investing when we have an opportunity now?” (Larry Summers blog, Financial Times 20/10/15).
The current campaign against austerity on the left has inherent dangers for the working class. It is true that the present austerity offensive by Osborne in the UK presents very real threats for living conditions and employment. However the position of the official labour movement is that austerity is an ideologically driven project that is unnecessary and that there is a viable alternative.
The alternative that is proposed is effectively as we have outlined above, a raft of measures in line with Keynesian proposals that are all contained within the current capitalist system. For the working class this is a disguised trap. Austerity poses a clear and present danger for the working class but as we have shown the Keynesian alternative isn’t viable either. Neither continued austerity or a tax and spend strategy can save capitalism form its impending slump.
The main danger isn’t that austerity will continue as it is clearly failing to solve the current economic slowdown but that the working class will go into the impending crisis without a clear idea of the only real alternative.
This mainly concerns the most advanced layers of the working class and particularly those Marxists who have influence amongst the movement. It is absolutely essential that Marxists draw a clear distinction between opposing austerity and what we are fighting for.
The programme presented by Jeremy Corbyn for example is not a socialist one and neither is that of many of the trade union leaders. Their proposed alternative is a version of radical Keynesianism and an adaptation to capitalism that will be incapable of solving the organic crisis of the system. In engaging in the struggle against austerity we are really involved in the struggle for socialism and against capitalism. It is imperative that we distinguish ourselves in pointing out the shortcomings and pitfalls of the proposed left alternative.
Some may argue that this would isolate us from those engaged in the struggle but unless we have a crystal clear understanding of the economic processes leading towards slump and are able to explain this to the best activists we would be indistinguishable from the rest of the anti-austerity left. Indeed we would be misleading those we have influence over were we to campaign against austerity but have an uncritical attitude to the pro-capitalist policy of the Keynesian left.
At this stage proposing the abolition of capitalism and its replacement with a different form of production may appear as a utopian dream of the distant past but, in reality, the only alternative that is capable of doing away with the crisis wracked system of capitalism is a society where production is based on human need and not profit.
Socialism is the solution. How it is to be fought for and how it is to triumph lies outside the scope of this article, but we can say with absolute certainty that the logic of capitalism will face the vast majority of the producers with this stark choice in the not too distant future.
This is an edited version of an article that appeared in new journal Marxist World, by Bruce Wallace and Steve Dobbs.
Adrian Cruden of the Green Party looks at the Rojavan revolution as a source of hope and solidarity for the non-pacifist left against ISIS/Daesh, and as a progressive model for the Middle East
Political delusion reached some sort of tragic apogee last week with the British Parliamentary debate on bombing the Islamist ISIS/Daesh “Caliphate” straddling eastern Syria and north-western Iraq. Responding to the complaints that bombing alone would do little, Prime Minister David Cameron summoned up 70,000 “moderate” Syrian fighters who, although currently invisible, were apparently ready to take on the 30,000 soldiers of the Caliphate and battle their way to the Daesh stronghold of Raqqa, there to bring the conflict to a dramatic conclusion.
The Government has admitted the figure is a totalling of small groups of rebels primarily focussed on fighting the Assad regime (and each other) and the provenance of many is questionable: a good number have links with both al Qaeda and Daesh. Reportedly, officials warned Cameron not to use the figure, but he ignored them, a decision he may come to regret.
The Prime Minister’s wishful thinking, however, excluded one real source of potential military power which other pro-interventionists have been quick to point to as his Army of Moderates has sunk into the desert sands. Maajid Nawaaz of the Quilliam Foundation, speaking on BBC’s Question Time, referred to them portentously as “The Kurdish Warriors” and seemed to suggest they could be Cameron’s troop against Daesh. However, his assumption that the Syrian Kurds might be co-opted into Cameron’s military strategy demonstrates a misunderstanding of both the Kurds and Cameron but, for those of us on the non-pacifist Left, the issue does raise some serious questions about what robust alternative we can offer to the aerial bombing campaign.
At its height in the 16th century, the Ottoman Turkish Empire stretched from Persia to Morocco and from the Danube and Crimea in the north to Yemen in the south. As the leading Islamic power of its time, the Sultans also assumed the title of Caliph, effectively claiming the spiritual leadership of all Muslims and provoking a debate among a traditionally non-hierarchical faith that continues today with Daesh’s attempted assumption of the same role.
The Kurds are an ancient people native to Upper Mesopotamia and although many migrated to Anatolia under the Ottomans in the 15th century, most continued to live in what was the Governate of Raqqa in what is now north-eastern Syria and northern Iraq. By the 16th century, a powerful Kurdish family was ruling the province and although their dynasty subsequently fell, the Kurds remained an important presence in the area.
The decline of the Ottoman Empire was as slow as its rise had been spectacular, but by 1914, it had been pushed out of nearly all of its European provinces and had lost its north African territories to the new Empires of France, Italy and Britain, while Russia had taken the Crimea. When the Sultan sided with the Central Powers, it was in a desperate final attempt to push back his imperial rivals, but one which failed badly.
In the maelstrom of the end of the First World War, several other tectonic shifts occurred in the Near East. Huge, forcible population exchanges took place between Turkey and Greece across the Aegean Sea, ending five centuries of co-existence, while Armenians fled Turkey in the wake of genocide and many Kurds left Anatolia for the Raqqa governate in face of hostility from demoralised Turkish nationalists. Further south, sponsored by British oil companies and government, Islamist extremists established what was to become the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The Treaty of Sevres of 1920 implemented the Sykes-Picot agreement between Britain and France by which the two European powers literally drew lines in the sand between what became the French “mandates” of Lebanon and Syria and the British ones of Palestine and Iraq. The latter especially was a creation of Winston Churchill, who, in spite of warnings that it was not a viable entity as a unitary state, insisted on its creation for administrative and military convenience.
But perhaps one community lost out more than any other. The Kurds, after initially being promised their own nation state at the Treaty of Sevres, saw this undertaking torn up six years later by the Treaty of Lausanne and instead were left divided between Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran. Their history ever since has been one of repression and resistance for, while Iran generally tolerated the Kurd minority in its north-west, the other states have on and off sought to either passively deny or even actively destroy the Kurds’ existence.
The Iraqi Halabja chemical massacre is probably the best known of these. It was part of a three year genocide known as Al-Anfal which may have killed as many as 180,000 people. There was worldwide condemnation and following the Kurds revolt at the end of the 1991 Gulf War, the UN authorised the creation of a “safe haven” in Iraqi Kurdistan. After weeks of fighting between the Kurdish peshmerga militia units and the battered Iraqi army, Saddam withdrew his forces and left the region to function as a de facto autonomous area. Following the 2003 toppling of Saddam, the Kurdistan Regional Government was recognised as a formal part of a federal state and has continued with free elections, though the influence of the long-entrenched President, Massoud Barzani has led to complaints of corruption. A third party challenge by the Change List has made significant progress in recent elections, but has some way to go in challenging the incumbent.
In Syria, the Kurds’ lot was little better. Years of repression were manifested in banning the Kurdish language, cultural activities and traditional clothes, while Kurdish towns were given new Arab names. Kurdish citizenship rights were routinely removed, sometimes by tricks such as giving all Kurds just 24 hours to register as citizens and seizing the property of any who failed to meet the deadline. As well as demonization of Kurds in the mass media, a number of massacres took place including in Qamlishi in 2004, alongside much casual violence. Any and all attempts by Kurds to establish their own parties or institutions were routinely suppressed with detention, execution or “disappearance”.
Unsurprisingly, the Syrian Kurds have long had ties to their cousins in both Turkey and Iraq. Although the Kurdistan Regional Government President Barzani brokered an agreement between the two main Syrian Kurdish parties in 2011, it has been PKK, the Kurdish Peoples’ Party in Turkey, which has influenced them most.
Like many resistance movements in the 1960s and 1970s, the PKK adopted socialist thinking alongside its objectives for national self-determination and under Abdullah Ocalan this became increasingly Stalinist. Given the generally repressive nature of Turkish politics and society for much of the last century, the fact that the Kurds took a more extreme stance and adopted violence was not surprising – and indeed the PKK sought to justify this on the grounds of state violence similar to that in Syria and Iraq. However, as Turkey is an ally, the USA and the EU, including Britain, have listed the PKK as a terrorist organisation, although the UN has not and engages with it.
In 1999, Ocalan was snatched from exile in Kenya by a squad of Turkish commandos, with CIA support, and flown to prison in Turkey, where he has remained ever since. Although he has disavowed armed struggle and called for a political solution, periodically fighting has taken place between Turkish forces and Kurdish guerrillas. Now, with Syria in chaos, the PKK has been an important factor in strengthening the Syrian Kurds, not only militarily, but also ideologically. This is because, ironically, the devastation of the conflict has provided both the motivation and the opportunity for a radical political experiment to flourish deep inside a deadly war zone.
Rojava is the name given by the Kurds to the three cantons of Arfin, Cezire and Kobane and in late 2012, the Assad regime largely withdrew from the area, ceding control to the Kurds in return for an implicit understanding that they would not attack government areas. In response, the local Kurdish parties, the PYD and KNC, began to implement a revolutionary platform developed by Ocalan in his prison cell where he had digested writings by American ecosocialist Murray Bookchin on his theory of communalism, a synthesis of anarchist, environmentalist and socialist thinking. Consequently, almost unreported outside of its own borders, a new society covering over two million predominantly Muslim Kurds and minorities of Christian Assyrians, Yazidis and other faiths and nationalities is now being fashioned.
Bookchin held that capitalist society requires some degree of repression in order to perpetuate the inherently inimical relationship of capital and labour. Similarly, he noted that socialist societies with a centralised state in practice tend to some level of authoritarianism as well. His response was to seek to find a means of dismantling the instrument of repression, the State, without slipping into anarchy (which he also rejected in its undiluted form).
He looked to Classical Athens where, although women and slaves were excluded, the democratic ideal that all citizens take part in the decisions of society was first made manifest. In practical terms Bookchin realised that this could not work for large geographical units and so he argued democracy should start from the bottom with localised control of decision making filtering upwards to other levels only as necessary.
He added two further elements as preconditions for a successful communalist society. Firstly, for humans to flourish, the environment has to be protected and nurtured sustainably. And secondly, traditional male culture has become aggressively competitive and domineering, tending to the exclusion of others and the irresponsible exploitation of planet and people. Consequently, ending patriarchy is a vital necessity.
There is a long way to go, but in barely three years the Rojavan Revolution has taken huge strides in making Bookchin’s vision a reality. Adopting communalism under the title of “democratic confederalism”, this “stateless state” has a constitution which embeds power in the local district. Town hall meetings are the bedrock where everyone can participate. These elect local committees which are carefully balanced to ensure that at the very least 40% of their members are women and religious and ethnic minorities are fairly represented – one visiting journalist recounted a meeting co-chaired by an elderly Arab Sheikh in traditional robes and a young bare-headed Kurdish woman, who spoke in both Kurd and Arabic to ensure everyone understood the business being transacted.
Local committees in turn elect regional Canton committees while, in something of a contrast, a national Parliament has been elected and has appointed 20 Ministries (each with a male and female co-Minister). These national bodies have no authority over the cantons, however, and merely make requests and recommendations. Nevertheless they do play an important part in areas such as defence and foreign affairs.
There has been a big push to socialise the economy. Around 30% of agriculture and three quarters of the relatively small industrial sector have been collectivised and, although the right to private property remains, workers’ co-operatives are being encouraged as a major form of ownership. In pursuit of sustainability, there is a growing emphasis on sharing resources and on use value as opposed to exchange value, a fundamental challenge to market capitalism.
The legal system has been completely overhauled from the violence of the Assad years to a form of restorative justice seeking social peace, even for serious crimes such as murder. Acts of contrition and forgiveness feature highly, if perhaps not without some difficulty. Similarly, while there remains a voluntary police force, no officer is allowed a gun until they have undertaken training on feminist theory and the ultimate aim is to train all citizens in policing and then abolish the police as a distinct entity.
And the revolution is not limited to the Kurds alone: they have eschewed the concept of the nation state and so, in nearby ethnic Arab polities democratic confederalism is bringing people from previously hostile communities together, not always smoothly but in an unprecedented way. Notably, the former diplomat Carne Ross, writing in the FT in October, described how a Rojavan had referred to the centralised states imposed by Churchill nine decades ago as ziggurats, referencing the great ancient stone pyramid temples of the Priest-Kings of Mesopotamia. They had, he told him, been a disaster for the diverse societies forced within or divided by their artificial boundaries. Communalism, shorn of the artifice of nation, offers a better way for all.
The armed services, numbering around 23,000, are no exception to revolutionary thinking. The Peoples Protection Unit (YPG) predates the civil war and has now been joined by the YPJ, an all-female brigade comprising a third of the total armed forces. The YPJ undertakes a fully active service role and allegedly terrifies ISIS fighters who believe they will not enter Paradise if killed by a woman. Women also serve alongside men in other regiments and in this the Rojavan forces clearly function in a radically different way to the more conservative Peshmerga from Iraqi Kurdistan, who have established a female unit but not for frontline service.
The success of the Rojavan forces has been stunning, especially given that much of the time they have operated with old guns, “tanks” constructed from cannibalised agricultural equipment and no air support. Even when they have been victorious, the western media has rarely highlighted who they are or what they are fighting for, leaving the anarcho-economist David Graeber to demand in one of very few articles published by the Guardian, “Why Are We Ignoring the Revolution in Rojava?”
Initially the three cantons were separated by Daesh and FSA forces. Kobane was nearly overrun by Daesh forces in late 2014, but when Turkey finally let reinforcements be sent through its territory and the US agreed to limited air support, the Islamist attackers were thrown back. Next, major offensives by the Rojavans in summer this year threw Daesh back towards their capital at Raqqa. The Cezire Kurds swept westwards to link up their territory contiguously with Kobane – but plans to push on to link with Afrin in the west were halted when Turkey threatened to attack Rojava if they did so, allegedly concerned that this would cut off Ankara’s land link with Daesh territory.
Elsewhere, Rojavan forces were also key in carrying out an incursion deep into Daesh territory to rescue 20,000 Yazidis trapped on Mount Sinjar after the Islamists had driven them out of their homes and notoriously taken several thousand Yazidi women to be sold as sex slaves. A few weeks ago, the Rojavans retook Sinjar city, with a brigade of Yazidi women fighting alongside them.
It would be tempting to trumpet Rojava as some perfect oasis of a new world. However, as with any transformation, much does not go as wished. There have been allegations of ethnic cleansing by the YPG and its allies, of continued discrimination between different groups and occasional fighting between different Kurdish parties. While many of these have been discredited as fabrications by hostile Turkey, in other cases the Kurds have accepted there have been problems and undertaken to prevent recurrences.
Unlike Cameron’s hodge podge of questionable combatants, the Rojavans stand for values advocated by socialists around the globe: social and gender equality, common ownership, a disavowal of the nation state, and sustainable economics. Notably, where support is being canvassed, it is by people on the Left of politics.
In Leeds, Mae Benedict co-organises Leeds Friends of Rojava. She heard about the siege of Kobane and wanted to hold a solidarity demonstration. “I ran round random Kurdish restaurants even,” she explained. “I eventually found a contact via the power of Facebook and had a meeting in my kitchen with several people, Kurdish and British, trying to fathom out our common ideologies to write a joint flyer. I've never looked back.”
She remains passionately committed but has a balanced view of Rojava and why it is so important.
“Rojava is absolutely 100% imperfect. This is all fine. We don't need to look to some fantasy of utopia but rather to a more genuine and human movement. I like the glitches. For me too it represents the creation within the crisis of resistance. For example, that even whilst fighting off the fascism of ISIS they are building a University based on free education whilst here in the UK we really struggle to save the fragments of ours. That women's equality is absolutely central to this new world is really important.”
Her feelings are echoed by Alan Brook, a longstanding supporter of the Kurdish Solidarity movement who saw democratic confederalism in action in a PKK district of Kurdistan earlier this year. The Rojavans combination of secularism, socialism, feminism and ecology all combine to make it a “key beacon” for change. He has watched local assemblies in action, with women fully involved and challenging many traditional values. He was impressed by debates on local community issues, including how to recycle rubbish, protect trees and prevent animal cruelty. Democratic confederalism means genuine grassroots democracy, although he is equally not blind to the pressure it is under from more conservative elements.
Both Mae Benedict and Alan Brook took the view that some form of military support for Rojava could make a difference but that the current bombing campaign is not what is needed. Similarly, Martin O’Beirne, who is an ecosocialist blogger, argues that the Left should not ideologically oppose all military intervention, but understandably questions the selectivity and objectives of those currently commanding military power.
Among UK political parties, only the Greens have developed close links with Rojavans, and the Party’s International Co-ordinator, Dr Derek Wall, a leading ecosocialist thinker, has promoted support for Rojava but again with deep concern about current policy. Writing in the Morning Star, he said:
“The Kurds are the only force strongly committed to a multi ethnic, secular and pluralist approach. Kurds are, at least, trying to create a multi ethnic and multi faith society, that respects difference. (They) have sealed nearly all the border between Turkey and ISIS territory. Fighters, cash and military equipment have flowed from Turkey to ISIS, but the Kurds are in a strong position to totally cut off links between ISIS and the outside world to the north of Raqqa. Guess what - Cameron's government are having none of this. They have explicitly condemned the forces of Rojava. Recently Michael Fallon has accused the Kurds of ethnic cleansing...
The Turkish government have told the Kurds that if they advance into Jarablus they will be attacked by Turkish forces. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stated, quite openly, that if the Kurds displace ISIS along the reminder of the border between Syria and Turkey they will be under fire, (they) have said, 'The PYD will not pass to the west of the Euphrates. We'll hit them if they do.' So a democratic secular force that is able to fight ISIS and seal off one of their main sources of fighters and equipment, has been told by Turkey that they will be bombed for doing so! What is worse is that Turkey has on several occasions recently bombed Kurdish communities in Northern Syria,” Derek Wall concluded.
And so, for practical as well as moral reasons, my own view is that the Left must make the case to provide substantial support, including armaments, to what is the most effective force countering Daesh. This does not mean backing the current strategy-free bombing campaign, but it does mean accepting that conflict is sometimes necessary and just as socialists backed the wars against Franco and Hitler, ISIS/Daesh is of a similar ilk demanding a similar response.
All the same, while Rojava can win battles, it cannot conquer Daesh militarily – many other forces would be needed for that and it is important that in calling for support we do not encourage the view that the revolution could or should be co-opted into whatever the West (or Russia) plan for Syria. The failures of imperialism litter the Levant. We should not add to them.
Yet perhaps Rojava can destroy Daesh in the most effective way of all.
On the very doorstep of the Caliphate, in the most hostile of circumstances, history is being made by ordinary people creating a new society which, though radically different to the capitalism of the West, is also the antithesis of everything Daesh stands for. It is fragile and needs our support, but it also has to be allowed to develop and flourish in its own way. For Rojava, beleaguered, imperfect and inconsistent, is an example to all who seek a fairer, sustainable and peaceful world. We must assist them in demolishing their ziggurat so they can freely build anew – and it is in this way, through hearts and minds rather than bombs and bullets, that Rojava can finally defeat Daesh and drive its poisonous ideology into the desert of history.
LINKS OF INTEREST
Derek Wall in The Morning Star: http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-6f9f-Kurdish-struggle-is-our-struggle#.VmS5gb9mOBB
Martin O’Beirne: What is Next? http://www.martinobeirne.co.uk/blog/what-is-next-in-the-fight-against-isis-and-is-bombing-in-syria-ever-ok1
Friends of Rojava on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/leedsfriendsofrojava/?fref=ts
Underground Histories - Rojava: Documents & Debates: https://undergroundhistories.wordpress.com/2015/06/10/the-revolution-in-rojava-documents-and-debates/
Graeme McIver looks at the rise of Ada Colau the new radical Mayoress of Barcelona who has moved from the Spanish occupy movement to occupying the highest civic post in the Catalan Capital.
“With very few resources and with very little money, we achieved victory in the elections of such an important city as Barcelona. But partly it was not surprising, because there’s a strong popular movement and a strong desire for change. We have serious political problems here in Barcelona and in the entire country, and so there was a need for change, which you could see in the streets There are problems related to the economic crisis, but this economic crisis is a consequence of a political crisis, of a profound democratic crisis. We’ve had a form of government where the political elites had a cozy relationship with the economic elites who have ruined the economy of the country, and the ultimate representation of this was the behavior of the financial institutions, of the banks. They’ve defrauded thousands and thousands of people with abusive mortgages. They’ve evicted thousands of families, and they’ve ruined the country’s economy. And this has happened because of the cozy relationship between the political and economic elites ….”
Ada Colau Mayor of Barcelona
Outside the Ajuntament de Barcelona in the Plaza Sant Juame a handful of protestors gather each day. Some are there to highlight animal rights issues, some are Catalan Nationalists with their petitions, leaflets and newspapers whilst others raise global environmental issues. One is a middle-aged man who sits quietly by himself. People glance at his placards as they hurry past and every now and then someone pauses, spends a bit more time reading and then offers an encouraging word or two whilst dropping small change into his cup. His hand-made sign states. “I Feel Shame.” On another piece of cardboard he lists his employment history and qualifications. A public CV. He has 20 years computing experience, speaks Spanish, Catalan, English and German and is learning French. He has experience of working in the Barcelona Chamber of Commerce, the University, in publicity and an accountancy business. He is unemployed and cannot find a job. There are many like him in Spain.
Adrian Cruden on why we should all be celebrating the good news from Greece
The Hellenic people have this week dealt a huge blow for all Europeans against the corporate interests that over the last 8 years have foisted the political choice of austerity economics across the Continent. The 60%-plus vote to reject the latest demands for massive cuts in public services and welfare to the poorest represents a major victory in the struggle to reverse the "mainstream" view that the monetarism first adopted by Thatcher and Reagan in the 1980s should be the default form of orthodox economics.
It is a massive vote of confidence in the Syriza government and the stewardship of Prime Minister Tsipras and Finance Minister Varoufakis, but it leaves huge questions for them to tackle in terms of next steps. For although Greece has spoken loudly and clearly, the anti-democratic forces in the European Central Bank and the IMF, backed by the neo-liberalism of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, are unlikely to deviate from their obsession with reducing the public sector and increasing the wealth of the rich across the Eurozone. The economics of austerity will not go quietly or quickly.
This is a particularly pernicious form of political economy - it holds that balanced budgets are key for governments, whose involvement in society should rarely extend beyond basic policing and the military (although in practice it actually extends to providing subsidies and handouts to the big corporations that fund our political masters, either via bailouts viz the banking system or "private finance initiatives" and outsourcing of services such as health and education at criminally high costs to the taxpayer).
In this scenario, there is a fetish about reducing the deficit even when sucking money (and demand) out of a becalmed economy will simply lead to a downward spiral with huge costs to the lives of ordinary people. Its proponents however claim that, in the long-run, a harmonious equilibrium of supply and demand will be reached - although this is somewhat incredulously to be determined by the mystical invisible hand of the market rather than any socially-conscious intervention by humans. We are to serve economics, it seems, not the other way round.
The counterpoise to this - the investment-led approach of Keynesian economics - is somewhat more humane (albeit not necessarily an exclusively socialist response). It sees social objectives, primarily the minimisation of unemployment, as a key objective. Here, Governments will borrow or even just print new money to keep demand going in the economy, keeping activity moving so that people stay in work - this reduces the cost of out of work welfare and increases tax take, so that in time, if useful, the deficit can be reduced or eliminated without ruining the lives of ordinary people. As Keynes said of those who would leave things for the market to somehow work things out in the long run, "In the long run, we are all dead." Economics should serve society; social objectives should be their sole purpose, not the enrichment of an ever -smaller circle of owners and shareholders.
However, the neo-liberal elite who came to dominate our political landscape as well as the economy during and since the 1980s have made several key changes that undermine the potential for investment-led economics. They removed many of the controls on money and globalised the movement of capital; and they gave banks the right to create new money out of nothing - a ludicrous and highly dangerous arrangement that led to the 2008 crisis and continues to this day.
And into the midst of this, although Britain is outside it, the Eurozone came into being and countries like Greece surrendered their economic and monetary independence to the European Central Bank. This now determines the economic policies not only of Greece but in effect all Eurozone states. And with its decisions in the hands of austerity-obsessed bankers whose sole objective has been to increase the power and wealth of the elite, the social needs of the poor in Greece, or Spain or even Germany have been of no concern. Hence their belief that Greece should cut and cut and cut and simply keep on bleeding.
In this context, we have seen Greece previously be forced to accept an unelected Prime Minister to impose the diktats of the ECB on its people. This was being openly contemplated again in Berlin last week as Merkel and her gang felt bullish about a Yes vote in the referendum cutting the legs from under the elected Syriza government. This is the same mindset that reportedly led to some bankers allegedly opening a book on whether or not there might be a military coup d'etat to "solve" their problems with the irritant of democratically elected Greek politicians not going along with inflicting ever more misery on their people.
Greece has said no to the austerity that is at the cold heart of Europe now. But the only real option for the Hellenic democracy is to now leave the Eurozone as quickly as possible. With the drachma restored, they would be free to adopt an investment-led recovery, restore their battered public services and revive their economy. In doing this, they would be leading the way for democratic forces across Europe to rise and turn our fractured societies away from the austerity that has left Britons to choose between heating and eating, Spaniards to watch their health services crumble and youth unemployment soar, and Greeks to see their country unravel around them, their young and their rich taking flight abroad.
For some of us on the progressive left in Britain, until now reluctant supporters of the European Union as at least some form of minimal defence against the corporatocracy, the treatment of Greece (and of Portugal, Spain and Italy) demands we revisit our views ahead of the British referendum. The Europe we seek, one that puts people and planet before the profit of big companies and the demands of our elite, is not on offer.
It may feel uncomfortable to be on the same side of the fence as the likes of UKIP, but is it any easier standing alongside the three pro-EU, pro-TTIP, pro-austerity parties coalesced under David Cameron? At the very least, the debate must be had - why should any progressive wish us to remain part of this "ever closer union" that would willingly, even enthusiastically, destroy one of its own? Can this project be saved from itself? How do we get a social Europe genuinely on the agenda? Or do we need to break away to come back together in something more constructive and sustainable?The No vote for the Hellenes is no negative result. It is a terrifying but optimistic vote that says society must be for everyone. That the collective need, the common good, must come before the apologists of robber-capitalism who hold power in the boardroom, banks and Cabinet offices in capitals across the European Union (including London). It is a line in the sand, but will need to be the first of many.
It is a vote for a future that is about people, not profits.
From the birthplace of democracy, it is a vote for all of us.
First published in Viridis Lumen http://viridislumen.blogspot.co.uk/
In the wake of the massacre of Charlie Hebdo (CH) cartoonists and the four French Jewish hostages on 7th January some elements of the left displayed their complete capitulation before the black reaction of fundamentalist Islam.
Incredibly, before the victims were even in their graves, a cacophony arose from so called socialists and revolutionaries that placed the blame squarely on the dead. The blogosphere and social media have been besieged by left wing keyboard warriors denouncing the racism, sexism, homophobia and islamophobia of Charlie Hebdo.
One, not that prominent, example is Socialist Fight who, with the minimum of research but the maximum of hyperbole, produced this under the title LCFI statement on Charlie Hebdo: Islamophobia is the racism de jour and waded in against the dead journalists and cartoonists, one aged 70 and the other 80, after a cherry picked display of one of CH's front page cartoon covers:
"We defy anyone to say this is not a vile racist, Islamophobic, sexist piece of French imperialist propaganda. It has a double meaning which suggests that the young women are 'finally' angry because of their benefits being removed and did not mind being kidnapped and repeatedly raped."
The real perpetrators behind the atrocity can be then identified. And the perpetrator is, of course, imperialism. Imperialism has inflicted far worse atrocities in the Middle East and Africa which is, as we know, a banal truism.
"The LCFI asserts that the roots cause of the deaths at the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris on 7 January is imperialism's wars on Muslim lands, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Syria, etc. Marxists never equate the violence of the oppressor with that of the oppressed, we make no moral judgements on the people who have carried out these attacks and recognise the deaths caused by imperialism in these lands run into the hundreds of thousands, if not the low millions."
The elderly staff of CH obviously provoked this attack and brought the wrath of the oppressed down upon their heads. Being ingrained racists, the septuagenarian and octogenarian victims at the CH offices, were obviously intimately implicated in the imperialist bloodbaths and so deserved to die. Such is the implicit drift of the statement .
This grouplet have been joined by ex-SWP member Richard Seymour, who also peddles the racist slur:
"Now, I think there's a critical difference between solidarity with the journalists who were attacked, refusing to concede anything to the idea that journalists are somehow "legitimate targets," and solidarity with what is frankly a racist publication.
I will not waste time arguing over this point here: I simply take it as read that — irrespective of whatever else it does, and whatever valid comment it makes — the way in which that publication represents Islam is racist. If you need to be convinced of this, then I suggest you do your research, beginning with reading Edward Said's Orientalism, as well as some basic introductory texts on Islamophobia, and then come back to the conversation."
Ever the pedant is Seymour, but then I've read Orientalism too and, sure, Charlie Hebdo did indulge in portraying Muslim figures in stereotypical Orientalist fashion, but then again they were cartoons! All the figures in Charlie Hebdo's cartoons were characterisations of one sort or another, including that of the French President Hollande with his penis exposed. This is because that is what cartoons are and what particularly satirical ones do. They aren't supposed to be real depictions of the modern average French Muslim or anybody else for that matter.
CH are not alone in depicting Islamic fundamentalists as stereotyped cartoon figures of fun. Those in the Middle East fighting these killers use exactly the same technique and even Iran is about to produce this piss take:
Anyway enough of this straw man nonsense that amounts to a self-imposed fatwa on the critical faculties of some on the left.
What about the economics? This gets rid of all the claptrap about the meaning of satire or free speech that has been blogged to death.
Cockshott's sober analysis
I'm indebted to Paul Cockshott who has shared a draft of an excellent short paper on the economic and geo-political background behind the rise of Islamic fundamentalism Equivocation in the face of black reaction . Noting that great religions arise as ideological machines of empire and that, if we are to understand them, we must see how they are bound up with the rise and fall of states, he delves into the economic driver for the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.
Modern Islamic states were born out of World War I and the revolutions that followed the disintegrating Ottoman Empire when mainly British and French imperialism divided the Middle East between them creating a patchwork of artificial states.
The region has been the cockpit for geopolitical rivalry ever since.
Imperialism has indeed ravaged the region, but who have been the winners and losers? After the war on terror and the US invasion of Iraq with the disruption of its oil industry, followed by the isolation of Iran and sanctions against it came a boom in the global demand for oil particularly from China and India. This has overwhelmingly favoured the Gulf monarchies of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The oil monarchies are now richer per head than many European countries and far ahead of most of Asia.
Qatar for example has a GDP per head of $93,714 while France it is $42,500. Saudi Arabia is $25,962 while China is $6,807.
How does this work? This was explained many years ago by Karl Marx through the workings of the mechanism of differential rent.
The oil monarchies are wealthy because their oil always sells above its value. The value of a commodity, as Marx proved, is determined by the social average amount of labour time that is required to produce it but oil doesn't sell at its value but at its marginal cost of production which is much higher than its average cost.
Oil practically bubbles out of the ground in the Persian Gulf and production costs are very low. The price of a barrel of oil is $60. In Saudi Arabia it costs $5 to extract and transport it giving the Saudi's $55 profit. Meanwhile for the North Sea oil of the UK and Norway it costs $52 to extract and transport it with only $8 of profit. The drop in the price of oil as world industrial growth slows now makes US shale oil deposits completely unprofitable and amounts to a loss of minus $25 a barrel!
Since 2001 the revenues of OPEC have risen inexorably. The idea that imperialism is plundering the resources of the Middle East, as the Islamic fundamentalists argue, is clearly nonsense because the revenues of the oil monarchies have grown 4 times since 2001. The flow of oil from, and capital to, the Middle East inextricably links the advanced capitalist powers to the retrograde reactionary regimes of the oil monarchies who act as their proxies in the region.
Where do all the oil profits of OPEC come from? It isn't from the exploitation of oil workers in the Middle East because this is a miniscule portion of the profit. No, through differential rent there is a redistribution of surplus value, extracted through the exploitation of workers in America, Europe and Asia, which is transferred to the OPEC countries. As Cockshott puts it "labour produces the value that turns out as ground oil revenue in Arabia".
It is no coincidence that the extreme reactionary movements of ISIS and Al-Qaeda trace their origins to Saudi Arabia. The main threat to the oil monarchies, with their obscene wealth and despotic regimes, comes from secular democratic or working class movements in the region and challenges from other secular Arab states. Thus the reactionary oil regimes fund and foment movements based on a conservative brand of Sunni Islam that militates against basic democratic rights or political freedom and can wage war within secular Syria, Libya or Iraq on behalf of the Sunni kingdoms.
The imperialist powers have a vested interest in maintaining the grip of the oil monarchies (as a counterweight to less pliable secular and radical regimes) and this is the main reason that US imperialism aimed its aggression against the most developed secular Arab state of Iraq. The Sunni monarchy of Saudi Arabia and their US allies backed the early development of Al-Qaeda. There is also evidence that the US secretly supported ISIS against Assad's Syrian secular regime. Turkey is also known to secretly back ISIS but surely this is a contradiction because Turkey isn't an oil producer?
Cockshot explains this apparent contradiction. Turkey is the rump left after the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and is an established capitalist state that has pretensions to join the EU which has been repeatedly rebuffed. Now the capitalist class of Turkey have the government of Erdogan in power that is re-establishing Islam back into political life. As Turkey is a capitalist state it is subject to the laws of capital and its rate of profit has fallen.
Turkey's falling rate of profit
"The situation of Turkey is different. The ruling classes of Turkey cannot rely on ground rents. Instead they rely on exploiting their own working classes. As such they are affected by the general law of development of mature capitalist countries, the rate of profit falls as the capital to labour ratio rises."
The falling rate of profit is what drives competition between different capitals and rivalries between imperialist states to pursue expansionary policies to extend exploitation and enhance the market for their commodities thus acting as a counter-tendency to the falling rate of profit. The falling rate of profit in Turkey has propelled the capitalist class to consider an expansionary policy in the region.
As Cockshott puts it so clearly:
"This process gives rise to new ideologies on the part of the bourgeois state. It is no longer content with the secular modernism established by Attaturk, an ideology that was appropriate for a capitalist state that was in its early developmental stage. Once the stage of mature capitalism arrives, the ruling class rummages through the ideological toolbox of reaction to come up with an ideology that can justify expansion."
Turkey, a close ally of the US, secretly backs ISIS because it eyes the possibility of expansion southwards into Iraq. For that it needs to put on the veil of Islam and begins to abandon its secular past in order for its proxy force of ISIS to do its bidding in northern Iraq.
The atrocity at Charlie Hebdo certainly took place against a backdrop of imperialist devastation of Iraq, growing right wing and racist movements in Europe, but Marxists don't just look at the surface appearances of the dynamics of geopolitical developments. We delve deeper to explain the laws that that drive a diseased capitalism to war, reaction and atrocity.
Like any good detective we "follow the money".
With the radical left in Greece now in power there has been a rise in confidence within the left across Europe. With a manifesto based on anti-austerity and promising to challenge the European Unions elite head on they are certainly saying the right things. The Greek people called and Syriza answered. Since the financial crisis the Greeks have suffered more than anyone else and as usual it was not the fault of the workers but the political and corporate elite. The country has almost been entirely controlled by the European Union and the central banks in order to pay back the billions of Euros that has been lent to them through bailouts etc. For too long the people of Greece have had to listen to politicians talk of tightening belts so it was only a matter of time until the people rebelled against the capitalist elite who have enjoyed the same luxuries as before with no consequence. Syriza have rode a wave of discontent very successfully with not only the establishment against them but the rising right-wing sentiment that for a while was plaguing Greece and is now on the rise across Europe. It is rather uplifting to see the people of Greece reject the politics of hate and fear and choose the politics of hope and future.
Syriza have accomplished something that no other far-left party in Europe has done and that is win a general election. They have set a benchmark for others to inspire towards but it will be in vein if they are to stand against the European Union alone. While socialists across the continent take to online media to praise them, we must go further. In order to show true solidarity with them we must ensure that they are fighting side-by-side with their comrades in other far-left parties from different nations on the main stage. Only by working together can we do this, before we work together with parties from across Europe we must work together with parties from across Scotland.
In a letter sent to the Herald yet not published, Colin Fox of the SSP correctly stated that Syriza are not like the SNP and in fact are far further to the left than the SNP ever will be. Colin travelled to Greece with a delegation from the new Scottish Left Project which is looking to form a coalition between Scotlands socialists. Colin Fox engaging with the group indicates that he could be ready to play ball along with the rest of the SSP in regards to a possible coalition. Should this happen, we could finally see the neo-liberal parties challenged
In a world that is dominated and controlled by a capitalist elite, the odds are stacked against the sole socialist state. They are bombarded from all angles; Media, Finance, Diplomacy to name a few. When someone challenges the status-quo the beasts soon surround them and pounce before a word can be uttered. The challenge to neo-liberalism has been a long time coming and Syriza are giving us a chance to mount such a challenge. BBC News has already shown its hand when covering the election by engaging with not a single person who is in support of Syriza yet having 4 separate voices condemning them with the coverage littered with phrases such as "Dangerous policies". It will only be a matter of time until financial restrictions are enforced upon the country until the time when a general election will have to be called and they vote in a party that will tow the neo-liberal, austerity ridden line. It is a regular occurrence for Europe and the US to impose sanctions on a country for little more than having a different outlook to themselves and so it will come as no surprise when they are imposed on Greece. In the 21st century military war is used to make poorer nations bend the knee but against other developed counties, financial war takes place. The IMF, World Bank and the rest are the WMDs of today's world.
In a country that is already on the brink of collapse, we cannot sit idly by and let Syriza face the might of the neo-imperialists alone. The far-left in each European country must fight for victory as we no longer have time to sit back and plan, we have the survival of Greece to consider. Podemos are already on their way but we in Scotland too must act. On the back of the referendum we have a unique chance to build something that could mount a challenge first to the status-quo in Britain and then the status-quo in Europe and the World. We must join Syriza on the world stage and only then can we show true solidarity as only then can we fight with them against the power of the capitalist elite. Greece can not suffer alone and they will struggle to take on the establishment alone. Solidarity can be shown in many different ways but in this situation there is only one way that will really make a difference. Through a strong radical left in Scotland we can help support Syriza and Podemos and spread the word across Europe that there is an alternative to austerity and capitalism. If Syriza fail and Greece suffers, the radical left will blamed and it will be another huge dent for left which is only beginning to recover in Europe from the devastating effect the Soviet Union had.
"Citizens of Athens, tonight's success is not only a triumph for Greece it is a victory for all the people of Europe fighting austerity and neo-liberalism."
This quote is from Alexis Tsipras. He and Syriza believe in us so we must not let Syriza fight alone.
Updated version of an article taken from The Scottish Left Projects blog
Palestinian activists talk to Adam Cochrane about the harsh reality of life under Israeli occupation
The Gaza strip is an open-air prison that’s been under siege since 2006. It is one of the most densely populated places on earth. Some 1.8 million people are crammed into just 141 square miles of land. Israel has nearly halved Gaza in its latest assault, reducing the area by 44 percent. The Israeli Defence Force has declared any area within three miles of the Israeli border a “no go zone”. Yet even outside of this “no go zone” much of Gaza is now uninhabitable due to the bombing, which has destroyed homes and the little infrastructure that there is.
In this article I will look at how the world’s main power blocs are handling the upheaval in Ukraine. I’ll argue that viewing the issue in terms of spheres of influence is not such a great idea. In this complex world of ours, relationships between entities are ever important. Ludwig Von Bertalanffy coined the term “whole systems thinking”. It refers to a method of decision making that looks at the interrelationships of the constituent parts of a world political system rather than focusing on the parts themselves.
This crisis is not about Ukraine. Neither is it about Europe. Current events in Crimea are not about Russia. These catastrophic events are about perspectives, connections, relationships and conditions between these gargantuan actors on the world stage.
Phil Stott on a fantastic victory for the left, as socialist Kshama Sawant wins a City Council seat in Seattle - in what was effectively a constituency with 3 to 4 times the electorate of a Westminster or Scottish Parliamentary seat
The 15th of November 2013 will go down in history. That was the day when an openly declared socialist, Kshama Sawant, created a political earthquake in Seattle, and among left and progressives across the US, by winning a council seat. This is the first time a socialist has won an election in at least 100 years in Seattle. In fact the Seattle city archivist could find no record of a socialist ever being elected in the city.
Kshama, an immigrant from India, won over 93,000 votes to defeat 16 year council veteran and leading Democrat, Richard Conlin. So how was this incredible result achieved? And what are the prospects for further advances for socialism in the "belly of the beast" that is the US?